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    5 Things to Remember About Giving Exceptional Learner Feedback

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    5 Things to Remember About Giving Exceptional Learner Feedback

    Where would our students be without feedback? And not just any kind, but the kind that's sensible, understandable, and above all, actionable? Giving exceptional learner feedback is one of the most empowering things we can do as educators. But just how important is it?

    To answer this question, consider how you felt the last time someone gave you feedback that was critical, vague, and completely deconstructive. How enthused were you about continuing to do the work knowing that's what was awaiting your best efforts?

    In one of our most popular articles on giving feedback, we talk about how it should enable and inspire our learners to succeed. Not only should it make them feel good about where they are, it should also get them excited about where they can go.

    The whole idea of learning is progression in both mind and heart. As our students learn from us, the feedback we give them is an integral part of that journey. It can either make them or break them with a few simple words. That's why we must place energy into giving exceptional learner feedback as much as possible.

    These 5 feedback qualities are among the most important to consider. They come from an in-depth TeachThought article called 20 Ways To Provide Effective Feedback For Learning. Stick with these guidelines and you won't go wrong in providing the best feedback possible to your learners.

    1. Feedback should be educative in nature.

    "Providing feedback means giving students an explanation of what they are doing correctly AND incorrectly," says Terry Heick, the article's author. That said, the majority of focus should be placed on what the student is doing right.

    From there, our teaching feedback should present pathways and possibilities to the learner. After we know where they are, we can present ideas like this for them to ponder:

    • Have you thought about ...?
    • Did you explore ...?
    • You could also include ...
    • How could you reword ...?
    • What would be another way to ...?

    These are just a few ideas of how students could be prompted to make good work even better with the proper feedback. No matter what, though, our goal as teachers is to use our feedback to educate learners about what's possible, not just what is.

    2. Feedback should be given in a timely manner.

    When giving exceptional learner feedback, time is of the essence. Much of our learning—and our enthusiasm for it—happens in the moment. "If we wait too long to give feedback, the moment is lost and the student might not connect the feedback with the action," says Terry.

    A big part of giving exceptional learner feedback means letting learners know what the whole purpose of it is.

    Think of students' learning as a consistently dynamic process. Our brains, especially our technologically immersed brains, are in constant flux. We are always searching for the next revelation, the next idea, the next reward, and so on. The more timely and consistent our feedback is, the more useful it is to our learners.

    3. Feedback should be geared toward the individual needs of the student.

    Every classroom is full of diverse learners as different as the day is long. Because of this, just as learning benefits from a measure of personalization, so does our feedback. Terry reminds us, "Some students need to be nudged to achieve at a higher level and others need to be handled very gently so as not to discourage learning and damage self-esteem."

    Learning always has been a very personal experience. The practice of personalizing learning is about tailoring task and instruction to the range of interests and learning styles that characterize today’s modern learners. It also means doing so in creative and engaging ways, and the same rules apply to how we give feedback.

    As our feedback is customized to fit every learners' needs in the moments learning happens, we allow them to grow as individuals.

    4.  Feedback should be observant.

    Our learners want to know their efforts are being noticed. "Make an effort to notice a student’s behavior or effort at a task," advises Terry. Some examples of this are:

    • “I noticed when you regrouped correctly in the hundreds column, you got the problem right.”
    • "I thought it was great that you were helping your classmates with that one task the other day."
    • “I noticed you arrived on time to class this entire week.”
    • "You've made such big improvements in the last little while. Great job!"

    This is more than just about acknowledgement; it's about positive reinforcement. If a learner works hard enough at something, or goes above and beyond in some way, such action deserves to be addressed positively. It's a way of letting students know you are actively involved in their desire to grow and progress, and that you appreciate their efforts.

    5. Feedback should be transparently modelled.

    A big part of giving exceptional learner feedback means letting learners know what the whole purpose of it is. This goes hand in hand with making learning intentions and success criteria fully available to students as well.

    Imagine a friend asks you to give them a lift, and you hop in your car to pick them up. When they get in you ask them the destination, but instead they say, “Just drive.”

    Unsure, you begin to drive and you are nervously anticipating the next direction. Will you need to turn left or right, and when? Which lane should you be in? Do you have enough gas for this trip? 

    Occasionally you get a change in direction—turn left at the road, turn right at the corner—until finally you’re told to pull over and stop and it’s announced, “We’re here.” You most likely are left wondering where “here” is, and are focused on the stress of not knowing what was happening. 

    It’s a bit like this for the learners. We may have a plan and see how it all weaves together, but the learning is so much more purposeful when the learners also know the destination, and share in the journey. 

    Take these tips for giving exceptional learner feedback into all your classrooms. Ultimately it is the best feedback we can provide that will truly accelerate our students' learning.

    Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

    Originally published Dec 31, 2018, updated Nov 11, 2021

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